A sign of a truly great film is how repeated viewings offer different and deeper perspectives. One such film is ‘Maborosi’ (1995) by Hirakazu Kore-eda.
Makiko Esumi’s performance is stunning. Her minimal movements convey the inner anguish, confusion and helplessness. Life, so tentative, has to continue. Peace comes not from knowing but from accepting that one will never know.
After several viewings, I still want to watch the film again … and again. I will write a blog about the film in the near future. In the meantime, here is a brief photo introduction to the lead actress, a former model.
Makiko is better known for her TV work but for me, she is the soul of this beautiful, delicate film.
Daniel knew the days of Sawhead The Bear were numbered. Their manager had disappeared. The guitarist was having an affair with the bass player’s girlfriend. The drummer was simply on another planet. Daniel was the only one taking it seriously and was now being held back by their lack of ambition, enthusiasm and professionalism.
Daniel had gone to The Russians one Saturday afternoon, only to be told that there was no gig that night. Or, maybe there was, but no one knew, and it hadn’t been advertised.
“Didn’t you see Jake ?” Daniel asked Andrei.
“For sure, but he too drunk to talk. He keep say me what I do wrong, so I don’t listen. I play music very loud.”
“Shall we go now and ask ?”.
But there was no answer from either Andrei or Sascha.
“Fucking hell, I come all this fucking way and . . . where’s Boris ? Another fucker gone AWOL ?” Daniel knew better than to ask where Olga was.
“What the fuck’s wrong ?” Daniel asked, sick of the apathy. Sascha answered that they were tired of playing the same bar and the same songs. The night in the new squat bar was good, but . . .
“Fucking hell, all we gotta do is find new places, then. As for new songs, we have to fucking write them. I’ve got a bunch of new lyrics, but we never get around to fucking working on them. Let’s do one, now, come on, get your fucking bass on.”
“I don’t have any new music,” Andrei said.
“Fuck all that shit, I’ve got a bass line. I’ve got this whole new song worked out. Listen,” and Daniel opened a notebook and read aloud,
The rat in the corner is my only guest ‘Cause the mice have split and the cat gone quit I guess you could say things ain’t at their best But things’ll be OK, they’ll be all right In the morning.
Oh, I can drink and pretend to be Content with life and happy Like any person in any bar But don’t look too deep, don’t peer too far Inside.
Silence. Finally Sascha asked,
“Ahhh, Dan, Daniel . . . what is ‘peer’ ?”
Andrei laughed, then Boris came into the room, looking anywhere but at his bass player. Daniel told Andrei what to play, humming a bass line, a simple jazzy pattern. Then he suggested some ideas for Sascha.
“Hey, Boris, I thought, instead of playing along, strumming, just play lead, crank up the distortion and riff away in the gaps. Come on, let’s give it a go.”
After two or three slow, half-hearted attempts, the song was getting into shape, Boris liking the total freedom, and understood exactly what Daniel wanted.
Daniel was really impressed by his guitarist and just wondered why he couldn’t always be so inspired. Then Olga came home. Andrei called out and she popped her head in, quickly spoke in Russian and went back to the kitchen to clean her teeth. Daniel suddenly understood why Boris was so relaxed.
Then he suggested a band meeting, in the Czar Bar, as he was hoping that there would be girls there who had come to see him, and as he wasn’t playing, he could spent more time with them.
Not so many girls tonight, however Daniel was very happy to see Richard.
“Where the fuck is Laughing Boy ?” he asked. Richard couldn’t believe he didn’t know the story. He couldn’t believe Andrei or Boris hadn’t told him. Once he was updated, Daniel explained that maybe Boris and Andrei were having their own version of the Chris – Johan – Veronica triangle.
“Oh, fuck !”
“Yes,” agreed Daniel, “Oh, fuck.”
“That’s why I’m here, see what’s going down. Gauge the depth of shit that Chris has plunged into. Head first. He thinks Johan’s gonna kill him. He’s absolutely fucking certain Claude is going to kill him. I want to speak with Jake before it gets too busy.”
“Or you pass out again. Fucking lightweight.”
“Not tonight. Got work to do. And you ? You playing or what ?”
“Thought I was, ah, fuck it, long story. I tried calling your number, but the line’s dead.”
Richard passed over the number of Biberkopf.
“Yeah, that’s gone, didn’t want to keep paying for it, so got rid,” he explained, apologetically, the implication being that no one called him anyway. He also gave Daniel his address.
“No intercom, or funny business, just walk in, through to the Hof and up the stairs, Mister. You’ll get some old Krauts stare at you, but I’m sure you’re used to that.”
“Not yet. Those fuckers really gawk, don’t they ? Still have to stop myself from asking them, ‘What the fuck’s your problem ?’ Apart from being a German cunt, that is.”
Daniel them began losing interest in Richard as he saw a couple of girl fans and went over, putting an arm around each one.
Jake wandered over to Richard, between customers, asking when Chris was coming back.
“Johan’s not going to do anything. He’s pissed, he’s real pissed, but he won’t touch Chris. He’s not violent, never even seen him angry.”
“Yeah, Claude’s gonna fucking kill him !” then Jake let out a splutter of laughter that amused and confused Richard who was further confused when Jake had a suggestion,
“Hey, Rich, you wanna give me a hand here ?”
“Yeah, need someone I can trust. You know the prices, don’t you ? Then go gather glasses, wash a few . . .”
“Fuck, Jake, more washing up ?”
“Ah, not too fancy, just get the dregs out, wet them. Come on, get your arse behind the bar.”
Richard left as the sun was already up and doing it’s best to shed some hope and colour. He got a commitment from the band to play any new gig that Chris could organise. He got word directly from Johan (who had come in looking wrecked, but had done a very amusing double take seeing Richard pouring vodkas behind the bar) that Chris was in no physical danger. He got an unexpected wage from Jake. And he was sober. He had considered this work and approached it seriously. He had refused each and every vodka. He had, however, accepted every vodka-inspired kiss, though ‘every’ was actually just one. One more than usual.
On the way home, he went into a bakery and picked up different sorts of croissants and rolls and two take-out coffees. Whatever else was wrong with Berlin, rather with his life in Berlin, the smell of fresh croissants and take out coffee in polystyrene cups was one of life’s genuine pleasures. Walking home in the early morning in a straight line was not only a novelty but a further pleasure. It was October, another malicious Berlin winter was coming. But not today.
Chris woke up when Richard opened the door, despite efforts to be quiet.
The real shock for Chris was seeing Richard, after all night in the bar, hair straight, eyes focused, looking well, not spouting nonsense or laughing at everything.
They breakfasted together and Richard filled him in.
“So, it’s cool with Johan ?”
“No, not by a long chalk, Mush. He’s really torn up. But he’ll be all right. You’ll be OK.”
“So . . . do you think I can go back ?”
“I’d still give it a week or two. Now, the band. You’re gonna have to get them work, before hell breaks loose.”
“That bad ? What’s wrong now ?”
And Richard told him all the gossip along with a few conjectures of his own. Chris laughed, but he was using the funny anecdotes as a cover. He was relieved that Richard seemed to be staying sober.
At the earliest acceptable time, Chris called Arizona Al. He was hoping for some leads. Arizona was glad to repay him. He was taking part in another concert night in some back room club in a back street in the back of Mitte. He’d have to check, but was sure that Sawhead could get on the bill. They even had a bit of a name. A bit.
When Chris returned to the flat, he was surprised to see Daniel outside, looking up and down the street.
“I forgot the fucking number. Had it written down, but lost the paper. And that work number.”
When he entered the flat with Chris, Richard recognized, and smelt, that Daniel had on the same clothes as last night, and within five minutes, Daniel was telling them of his latest sexual conquest.
Chris was glad to change the subject and mentioned that there could be a new gig in Mitte next Saturday.
“Fucking Aces. We getting paid ?”
This lead Daniel to talk about his job. He had been missing work; first the odd day, then two days, now he regularly worked only three days a week. He was on his last warning. It was only due to a sympathetic foreman, also from London, that he was able to keep the job. Daniel didn’t really care, imagining that he could move in with the Russians, work in a bar and play more gigs, maybe three a week, and start getting money that way.
Chris looked at Daniel and nodded in a vague, non-committal way but felt Richard staring at him. He said that it was all possible, what Daniel had projected. But then Daniel said something else,
“Can’t expect someone of my talent to work that shit for much longer. I need time to work on my lyrics. Need energy for my girls. Know what I mean ? No, don’t suppose you two do.”
After Daniel had left, explaining how he needed a shower because his whole body stank of pussy, Richard and Chris looked at each other, wordless. When they did speak, after minutes or head-shaking and intakes of breathe, many references were made to Dr Frankenstein and his creation.
The gig was confirmed. Chris went over to the Russians, giving them all the details. This time they had use of a van to transport their equipment.
Daniel had also arranged his own transport, deciding that he should be driven to and from the concert. He had convinced a workmate, with a car, to drive him, boasting of the amount of women he always attracted.
The Russians would make their own way there, while Richard and Chris would be picked up on Karl-Liebknecht Straße, by the bus stop outside the Marienkirche.
The following Saturday, to get some air and kill some time, Richard and Chris walked to the open air crafts street market by the Bode Museum. They checked out the films being shown by the Zeughaus cinema, and wandered up Unter Den Linden. Chris was dreading Richard suggesting that they go for a drink, and was relieved when they walked past bar after bar without being dragged in.
Chris brought two cheap and quite awful coffees from an Imbiss and they made their way to the pick-up point.
Crossing the main road by subway, they heard a solo busker at the end of the tunnel, his voice and guitar echoing against the tiles and making them smile as they recognized the piece; ‘Swan Swan H’ by R.E.M. which was played well.
Chris, as he approached, began nodding his head, and Richard quietly joined in with the lyrics, getting louder as the busker smiled to encourage him. Chris then began lifting his arms and suddenly, twirling around, he did a waltz with an imaginary partner.
When he obstructed an elderly couple with his artistic expression, the Busker laughed and blew his words, but Richard only gained in confidence.
They gave him all their loose change and went to wait for their ride.
The good feeling soon dispersed when the car pulled over. Daniel was in the passenger seat, wearing sunglasses, and didn’t even look or speak to them as they climbed in the back seat. The driver introduced himself as Martin and asked for directions. Chris made a joke about not being exactly sure, and Daniel let out an expression of frustration and anger. Richard made a sign to Chris to let it go and they headed to Rosenthaler Platz.
Chris had a street map unfolded before him and was trying to follow the route. He found the street, but not the club. The whole area looked nondescript, residential. Then Richard spotted a familiar face,
“Look, there’s Bryan. Pull over and ask him.”
They called to him and as Daniel wound down his window, Bryan thrust his head in, making the driver recoil in terror. They got directions. It was the right street, but the entrance to the club was around the corner, through some doors. Of course. This was Berlin, why should anything be straightforward ?
Martin was still in shock,
“What the fuck was that for a thing ?”
“Does have rather a large bonce, doesn’t he ?” stated Richard.
“Did you see that head ?” asked Martin, “It filled the whole window.”
Chris was just giggling. He was sick of this bloody band, and was in the mood for dancing and drinking.
There followed the usual madness of dozens of musicians coming and going and demanding and asking and singing and showing off and smoking and drinking and sitting around and jumping about and hugging and greeting and kissing and joking and posing and posing and posing.
Arizona Al turned a corner, a keyboard over his back. Richard and Chris looked at each other and their hearts sank. Daniel went up to him, arms outstretched and kissed him on the cheek. Arizona took some time before he recognized him. “Oh, yeah, right, Sawhead, right, yeah, I remember, wow, how you doing, man ?”
The night was actually well organised and well attended. The main band was an electronic trio from Norway, a band who had released some records and a couple of CDs that were displayed by the entrance.
Some local media moguls were there, journalists from newspapers nobody knew existed, people from local radio, and some professional musicians whom Arizona Al recognized by sight and was slightly in awe of, one being a Russian guitarist who had, allegedly, jammed with Keith Richards. He pointed him out to Chris, saying that Sawhead could really make some good contacts tonight.
Unfortunately, the tensions within the band came out onstage and it was to be their last ever gig.
They were put on early which Daniel complained about, even threatening to pull out completely. The organisers told him OK, leave, and he had to back down. Andrei and Boris simply couldn’t look at each other, and Richard was glad he came with Daniel, as that short journey was Mardi Gras compared to what the ride from Ostkreuz must have been.
Again, Daniel wanted to make an entrance and had instructed the band to start playing before he walked on, expecting to get his own applause. Boris and Andrei were past caring, but Sascha, supposed to count them in, just sat behind his kit, waiting for Daniel. Daniel gestured to him but Sascha seemed to think that he was waving, and kept waving back. Again, Daniel had to come on and wait for the band to start.
One of Daniel’s main concerns was the music. He was aiming for a Rock, Indie-Pop sound and encouraged Boris to use his effect pedals to fill out and make his guitar heavier. But Boris preferred a clear, pure sound. Usually. Tonight, he was being more . . . experimental.
And it began immediately. While Daniel was trying to introduce the first song, and speaking a lot more than was necessary, Boris began playing, his overdrive pedal switched to the max and it screamed out of every speaker and made the audience jump back, cover their ears, leave. Sascha found a point to join in and Andrei, clearly relishing a pissing contest with his rival, turned up his bass and began playing. He was aiming simply for volume, not for rhythm and it threw Sascha, who now began trying to follow his bass player. Daniel was completely lost and had no idea what song his band were playing. All his ideas about changing the name to Daniel Roth and Sawhead The Bear vanished, as he believed his backing band were deliberately trying to sabotage him.
Boris and Andrei were standing on opposite sides of the stage, looking away. Sascha was looking at everybody for some kind of indication or instruction. Daniel sang any lyrics he thought would fit, but couldn’t be heard, anyway.
Chris looked at Richard who looked at Arizona Al who looked at Bryan Moonface. People who didn’t know the band walked away, dismissing them as first timers at best, a joke band, at worse.
Daniel could see people leave en mass. Some girls he had winked at earlier, telling them how great his band were, just laughed at him as they turned to talk to other musicians.
Throwing down his mic, Daniel went up to Boris, to shake him, but was shrugged off. When he tried again, the look of absolute hate in Boris’ eyes made him step back. Daniel then went over to Andrei and began shouting. The bass player simply ignored him. But Daniel had to find a target, and when Sascha smiled at him like this was a great, rocking band, Daniel dived across the drum kit to strangle him.
There was a sound of a bass crashing to the floor, then deafening feedback. Daniel was lifted up, one-handed, by Andrei who looked him in the eye, wagged his finger ‘No!’ then half pushed, half threw him off the stage.
Daniel walked out. Sascha began shouting at Andrei, who packed up his bass. Boris kept on playing until the sound guys cut his amp.
Chris didn’t care. Daniel had left. The Russians were going their separate ways. But the bar was well stocked, the women were gorgeous and, as he said to Richard,
“Just when you think things can’t get any worse, we still have to listen to Arizona Al.”
In tandem, Richard and Chris delivered the by now obligatory,
“We’re gonna need a bigger bar,” line.
They stayed until the Norwegian band came on, and after five minutes of electronic music that didn’t appeal to them at all, they left.
They walked home, deciding to break the monotony of the walk by going into one or two bars along the way. Richard only drank, only seemed to want to drink, beer, but these were conventional, local bars, no truck with vodka madness, leg-cocking canines and, “Shit on a stick.” Being away from the Czar Bar was having a positive effect. Chris just wished it had been a better evening. But he also realised, through all the fear and worry, he hadn’t once thought about Veronica.
Richard decided to go straight home after work, a rare event, as he usually took two night buses to get to Friedrichshain, to get to the Czar Bar, to get blind drunk.
As he entered the Hof, he looked up and saw his lights on. Chris was there.
He came in, expecting warm greetings, shouts of, “Hey, how ya doin’ ?” and such like. The odds were against Richard returning home early and sober, so it was quite an event.
But Chris was sitting in the kitchen, drinking tea and looking nervous, even scared. Richard also noticed Chris’ bag in the room, full of clothes.
He didn’t wait for Richard to ask, but offered two words that explained everything,
It had begun at the Sawhead concert. Playing a different bar with different bands had created a festival feeling amongst the band members and their entourage.
Chris had been telling everyone about the concert. He had asked Arizona Al to appear, and to bring his own posse.
Another new person was Carla, Veronica’s friend, who had just arrived in Berlin.
Chris and Richard went to the Russian’s house mid afternoon on the Saturday to help them move the equipment. This time, it was only the drum kit and guitars, as the bar had their own P.A. System and amps.
The drinking began early, but it was controlled, just beers to maintain the natural high.
As they were setting up, they could sense that it was going to be special; a lot of people were milling around, either bar workers, their friends, other bands, their friends, other squatters, passers-by, those who were curious about the event, those who themselves were merely curious.
One such was a man who was very tall, slightly cross-eyed, and wore a suit of fluffy fabric with a pattern that resembled a Dalmatian dog. He had bits of coloured paper tied to strands of his hair, and wanted to play. Apparently, he was a one-man band named Necrophilia, and played Goth-Death-Experimental-Electronics.
The bill was a little light and he was told that if he could get his equipment here within an hour, he could go on, after Arizona Al and before Perry Coma. Chris had insisted that Sawhead The Bear close the show. They were the main event.
Daniel now dressed the part. He had a long black leather coat, more like a cloak, and wore large sunglasses, always. He had spent a lot of time with Arizona Al, gathering tips. Daniel appreciated that Arizona was the kind of guy who could throw on any old thing, and look so naturally cool. Daniel mentioned this to Richard,
“Undoubtedly, but you have heard him ?” came the uncharacteristically cynical reply.
The bar had a front room, long and deep, but the stage area, much larger and square, was reached by a corridor, guarded by two squatters acting as security. It was decided to charge 2 Marks entrance, to be split between the acts. The bar was expecting to make a killing.
Jake allowed Chris to go on the understanding that after Sawhead played, he would bring the entire audience back to the Czar Bar so they too could make a killing, in the name of vodka.
There was the usual controlled and semi-controlled and completely uncontrolled anarchy when it came to sound checking. The man on the controls was part of the Heidelberg contingent that had descended on east Berlin, a group of ten or so young men from that western university town. His name was Thomas, a sensible-looking young man with a real job and career, working as an audio engineer for a radio station.
Thomas approached this gig with the same level of professionalism as to his normal work. Unfortunately, the bands didn’t and it proved impossible to assemble all members of a band at the same time.
Daniel was too busy talking to some women who had arrived, and even suggested that Chris should stand in to test the mic level. Thomas said no to Pavel, who told Chris, who told Andrei who marched out to get Daniel to rehearse, to drag him by force, if necessary. Daniel tore himself away, predicting that tonight would be his first Berlin three-some.
The only one who matched Thomas for professionalism was Arizona Al, who turned up early, with just his acoustic guitar. He was told he’d only have time for two numbers, and he was happy with that.
Necrophilia appeared, a large keyboard under his arm and began setting up while Arizona played. The sounds he produced made everyone listening think that the mics were set too high and were feeding back, but Thomas nodded his head and understood that this was part of the act. Thomas also seemed to be the only one who appreciated it, as well.
Perry Coma swaggered in, acting as if they owned the place and, being the local band, they kind of did.
Boris listened to them for a while, checking out the guitarist, but soon walked away, seeing no competition there.
He conferred with Andrei and Sascha then asked Daniel if he could do an extended solo in one of the songs, but Daniel wasn’t too happy, and said that they can’t start messing around with the songs now. Boris knew that Daniel just didn’t want anyone else getting any attention, and was not going to be told how and when to play.
Both complained to Chris,
“Fucking hell,” he moaned to Richard, “all I get are problems. Not one fucking thank you for getting the gig, for bringing in people, making sure they get paid, go on last . . . Veronica ! Bella !”
Veronica and a friend walked in, nervously looking around. She saw Chris and walked over, taking a kiss on the cheek. She introduced Carla, and Richard ordered drinks. Suddenly the evening took an almighty upswing.
The concert began with Arizona Al, who commanded the stage, made two or three thumps on the floor for a time beat and launched into Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring Of Fire’. He had the crowd from the first strum. He followed it by an original number, but the good feeling initiated kept up. As he walked off, he was patted and cheered, and there were unanimous calls for an encore.
Chris and Richard were amazed. Why hadn’t he played like that before ? They were going to have to reassess their whole opinion of him. He was simply amazing, and to improve things further, Arizona came over to them, which raised the profile of Chris and Richard in the eyes of everyone. Especially two very beautiful Italian girls.
Necrophilia played next. And it was bad. So bad and so noisy that it was funny. Both girls laughed, charming the men.
Thankfully, the performance was over in ten minutes, as the entire room had cleared. The bar made good business.
Next up were Angry Black Men, an attempt at hip hop, some Germans dressed as they thought angry black men dressed in the hoods of New York. They got the crowd going, had some good beats, but the pretend accents caused laughter from the native English speakers.
After a small intermission, Perry Coma played and their fans marched down the front, and began jumping up and down, pogoing, throwing beer and spitting as the band played a distorted hybrid of punk and Death Metal.
A couple of singer-songwriters did an unplugged set that nobody pain much attention to, then it was time for Sawhead The Bear.
The Czar Bar contingent screamed and shouted out. Daniel made sure he entered the stage last, wanting the band to be playing, but they just stood around, lost, waiting for their singer.
Daniel stood, back to the audience, then thumped his foot, twice. Richard looked over at Chris and mouthed ‘Arizona Al !’ and Chris nodded.
They got a great reception and their set was getting tighter, but they played such a wide selection of music, it weakened their impact. One song was pure Indie Pop, the next, a country song, followed by Boris playing a funky guitar pattern. It was their covers that got the best response.
They played an encore which was a much looser version of a song played earlier. Now Boris wasn’t going to be restrained, and launched into a lengthy solo, turning his back to Daniel. But it was shit hot. He was on fire. He allowed himself one look into the audience and focused on Olga. Andrei finished the song early and unplugged his bass. He walked off the stage and took a fresh beer. Daniel stayed behind to get all the applause.
Chris pulled himself away from Veronica, saying he had to see to, “My band.” There was stress on, “My band.”
After their equipment was packed up, there was a little spat. Daniel wanted to go straight up to the bar, where he had two women waiting. The band said they needed help to get the drums and guitars home. Daniel said that they could do it without his help, it was their stuff, not his.
Chris didn’t want anything to spoil the evening. He found a solution. Everything could be stored upstairs, in Pavel’s room, where it would be safe. They could collect it tomorrow afternoon. All they had to do now was wait for the money, then go to the Czar Bar.
Agreement and fresh beers.
The reason Chris was so happy was a piece of news Veronica had let slip; Johan had left that day. He wasn’t in Berlin.
The girls had another effect on them; they steadied the drinking. Despite being in a bar most of the evening, they were tipsy but no more. The walk in the cold air to the Czar Bar took fifteen minutes, and sobered them further. The girls walked slowly, but that wasn’t a problem.
The Czar Bar was in full swing and got renewed energy from the influx of new people. Chris had to work but spent every spare second looking at or talking to Veronica.
The girls finally got tired long before the night was anywhere close to ending. Richard held Carla’s hand and told her how happy he was to meet her, desperately playing up the polite Englishman angle. He gave her two kisses on the cheek, and their hands remained touching until she walked away, with a wave.
Chris also got an innocent kiss on the cheek, but there was a little whisper between them.
After the girls had gone, Chris smiled, shook Richard’s hand, and poured them and Jake a well-deserved vodka. Then the night began to fade to blackout.
The next night, with Carla sleeping, Veronica went to Chris’ room, to borrow a book. She stayed for an hour.
This was repeated several times over the next two weeks.
On the Wednesday following the gig, Richard got a call at work. Chris reminded him that he and Jake had the bar that night and that he should come over. Carla had been asking about him.
The worst of the Summer was over and although the garden was still open, it was quiet, the people there drinking rather than ordering food; less food, less washing up.
The new chef appeared to be much better, albeit very messy. He made Richard a special dinner every night, on a giant plate, and would return from the cellar with a glint in his eye. He carried a large bucket full of onions and packets of spice and milk and put this in a far corner of the kitchen. He then got two ice cream glasses. He went back to the corner and there was the unmistakable hiss of a bottle of gassy alcohol being opened. He made a ‘pssss’ sound to Richard and beckoned him over, handing him a glass of expensive Sekt. After they had drunk, the chef, Jürgen, hid the piccolo bottle deep in the trash bin.
But there was a delay in getting paid, as giving the Spüler his money was the lowest priority of the staff, so much so that he missed a connection and had to wait nearly half an hour for the next night bus.
When he got to the bar, he was in the mood for drinking and drinking hard. He took three vodkas in the first ten minutes. Carla joined him for one, looked surprised at his second and horrified at his third. Chris laughed, and jokingly mentioned that he should perhaps slow down.
So Richard asked Jake instead.
He next memory was waking up, semi-undressed at home. Half of his money was gone, spent in the bar. He couldn’t sleep but couldn’t move either. He stayed in bed, hoping to get some sleep. After this proved impossible, he made coffee after coffee and smoked the remainder of his cigarettes.
Tonight it was the east German chef. And the staff he hated. He felt like having a drink before going into work, but didn’t want a Nuremberg Part II. Then a blurred flashback; he had a vague recollection of Carla tapping him on the shoulder, telling him he drank too much.
Carla, witnessing Richard’s drunken transformation, was no longer interested in even seeing him again, let alone starting any kind of relationship.
Veronica was unhappy with Johan, had been for a long time, was sure he was seeing other women, but was still in love with him. She was fond of Chris, and tried convincing herself that he could be the new man. But she was unwilling to listen; she knew herself too well.
Chris was also having misgivings. He was in love with Veronica and now had her. He told himself that Johan would understand, and that he and Veronica could be together. But . . .
One Friday afternoon, going to visit Richard and bumping into him on Schönhauser Allee, as he was returning with two bottles of wine, he opened up.
Richard’s main priority was getting the wine open, and Chris knew better than to start his story before Richard had taken a drink.
“Just one or two, set me up for work,” Richard explained.
“Oh, I hear that,” replied Chris before speaking about Veronica,
“I just don’t know. I love her. Really, I’m crazy about her. Been wanting her for . . . ever. “
“I don’t know. Something’s not right.”
“The sex ?”
Chris was surprised by Richard’s bluntness, but saw that he was already well into his second glass. And he had got the point. Chris finished his wine, poured some more and began,
“I’m not even sure if I . . . I mean, if she . . . you know ?”
“Pop goes the weasel ?” Richard confused Chris further by launching into an exaggerated Bob Dylan voice and saying, “Ya mean she’s a slow train coming ?”
Chris laughed, then followed it up,
“She says she does, but . . . “
“You mean you asked her ?”
“Why ‘of course’ ? You got some kinda satisfaction guarantee ?”
“Well, yeah, pretty much. No complaints so far. I used to blow Monika’s mind. And she would blow my mind.”
“Well, come on, there’s a lot of pressure. You’re not able to be relaxed, right ? She’s your friend’s girl. Lucky you can get it up at all.”
“Hey, it’s up, man, I’m the fucking TV Tower, I’m the Siegessäule. Nothing wrong with . . . that end of things. No collapsing new building there.”
“Glad to hear it. But she must have a lot of stress. She obviously needs things to be sorted. Away from Rigaer Str . . . Oh, I get it. You want to borrow my flat.”
“I’ll wash the sheets.”
“Oh, fuck, man, I don’t want the details. Damn right you will though. So when do you want to . . . you want to tonight, don’t you ?”
“I want to right now, man !”
“Can’t help you there, Mush. Another drink, or will it interfere with your TV Tower reception ?”
Richard then got the giggles and went to work in a good mood. It lasted about twenty minutes in the nine circles of Biberkopf’s Kitchen.
Chris borrowed the flat twice more over the next week.
Richard had no idea what had deterred Carla. He was in the bar one night, Andrei working alone, when she came in, saw Richard, avoided eye contact and left. Richard kept drinking, asking, perhaps too much, where Olga was.
The next time Andrei saw him, the Russian was worried,
“Hey, Richard what happen to you ? You were . . . “ and he waved a hand in front of his face. “I don’t know if you get home.”
Sascha joined in,
“Yes, you got a taxi home.”
“You were there ?” he asked Sascha. “I got a taxi home ? No, that doesn’t sound right.”
“And you were trying to kiss that girl,” Sascha broke out into uncontrollable laughter.
But Richard had no idea what had happened in the bar, whom he had seen, or talked to, or tried to kiss, or anything.
But he was back the next night, drinking until he passed out on the bar. This time Chris and Jake were working. He woke up sometime after six and Jake gave him a lot of ice tea to drink.
After he had staggered out, refusing the offer of crashing over, Jake spoke to Chris, also very concerned, as to his mind, there was no question; Richard was an alcoholic and heading for a different sort of crash.
Chris thought he should do something, but had no idea what.
Two days later, Chris was going to work the bar again. He walked along Rigaer Str, thinking how to approach Richard, when a violent scream made his heart stop. It was Claude, shouting at him from across the street and pointing a finger like a loaded gun,
“You ! You fucking boy ! You fucking boy !”
Chris, totally pale and sweating, ran into Carla, outside of the street door to the squat. She told him. Johan was back and was having a serious talk with Veronica. It was nasty. Carla was afraid to go inside.
Jake walked past, on his way to the beer shop. Chris told him what had happened. Jake just nodded and said,
Chris ran upstairs and packed as much as he could, then ran out, ran all the way to the Storkower S-Bahn, looking back all the time.
Meanwhile, Richard, confronted with a never-ending pile of plates and work, accepted that getting drunk wasn’t helping the workload, it only made it infinitely worse. He was feeling truly awful, all the time.
If he carried on he would end up like the drunks prowling Berlin’s streets, looking in bins, smoking old dog ends, huddling around Imbisses to buy cheap grain alcohol and asking people, “Kleingeld, bitte.”
Not how he wanted to be.
He decided to go straight home, waiting at Zoo Station for a later bus, destination Prenzlauer Berg, not Friedrichshain, sobriety not stupor.
That was when he saw the lights on in his flat, and hoped that Chris had brought some wine with him.
Russell and I met many years ago in London, when he was an aspiring actor. His career, in this notoriously fickle business, is really taking off but I’ll let Russell present himself, and share his journey.
Hi Russell. How’s it going ?
It’s a good day actually because I’ve just been cast in this feature film called ‘Witch’. I’m one of the leads. It’s probably going to the biggest movie that I’ve been in. We start shooting in the first two weeks of October, so that is very, very exciting.
Could you describe your hometown
I’m from Halifax in West Yorkshire. It’s a lovely place in the valleys, surrounded by countryside. Halifax is a small town near Leeds and Huddersfield, and about thirty miles from Manchester. It’s got a lovely place called the Peace Hall which is incredible … but the football team’s not doing too well.
At what point did you decide that you had to be an actor ?
There was no deciding. I was working as a welder at the time, doing sixty hours in a factory and I used to go home at Christmas to be with my mum and my sister and my brother. I was also going out with this girl who lived in London. I think her life, and being around her university friends, influenced me, how she was doing what she wanted to do.
I really struggled. At Christmas I would speak to my mum and ask, ‘What do I want to do ? I don’t want to do what I do anymore’. And she just said, ‘What did you like to do at school ?’ I mentioned acting, so we decided that I would get into performing arts, do a course in acting, just to find out what I wanted.
I did a two-year diploma at Arden school of acting in Manchester, and I ended up with six distinctions. I got in at Leicester and did four years in Performing Arts. I got a BA (Hons), ended up with a 2:2 for my dissertation.
For me, the real acting, the real work starts when you’re not in that bubble anymore, when you’re just out there, getting the experience, getting your showreel together, getting an Equity card, getting headshots. Getting your first professional credit. Finding out what you want to do; is it film, is it TV, is it musicals, is it theatre, is it commercials ? Is it music videos, murder mysteries ? I did them all !
There was a lot involved and I struggled a lot when I first started getting into acting, I was seeing a counsellor, one-to-one sessions, and I continued to do a lot of work by myself. I work on myself all the time, reading books. I’m a graduate in ‘More to Life’, I’m a graduate in ‘Landmark Worldwide’ which is all about how language creates your world and how the mind can run your life.
So, it’s not just a case of changing your career, it’s not easy. But I did it and I don’t give myself enough credit and I’m aware of that.
What were your influences ?
My mum and my sister. They said do what you want to do, what makes you happy. I had two cars and a motorbike when I was twenty-one but it wasn’t about the money, it was about what made me happy.
Do you have any advice for people wanting to work in the Arts ?
Believe in yourself and be aware there’s lots of negativity out there as well as positivity, and for people that haven’t had much success, it’s very easy for them to say that it’s really tough out there, and it’s this and it’s that. But if you listen to that, then you’re taking on their journey, not your own journey. For me, everybody’s journey is different, no matter where you are in life, in your career.
Be strong, always keep thinking outside the box. Develop your skill sets, keep getting the experience. Keep saying yes to opportunities and never stop learning. You’ll be learning for the rest of your life, there’s always something new to learn.
As an artist, one is inevitably going to face disappointment. How do you deal with this ?
One of the things I do, which fits into the Landmark Worldwide, is when you have a disappointment rather than say, ‘It’s me, I’m not good enough,’ what I say is that I wasn’t right for that particular part … but there will be a part that I am right for.
Always be amiable, go into everything with an open mind, like you’re learning for the first time. Don’t assume that you know everything.
Where can my readers see you ?
I have my own website, I’m on Spotlight, IMDb, Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I’m also on YouTube, so I’m everywhere, really.
I also did an eight-part TV series for TV called ‘Unexplained: Caught on Camera’, which was incredible. Look out for a monologue called ‘Borys the Rottweiler’ on Sky Arts, in which I play a dog.
Additionally, you can also see me in the Arctic Monkey Video, ‘When the Sun Goes Down – Scummy Man’.
The biggest things have been ‘Adventure Boyz’ & ‘The Lockdown Hauntings’ but the biggest thing is going to be ‘Witch’.
I’ve done loads of radio and commercials including one for Halifax Banking, which is on TV still.
What does the future hold ? Any exciting news ?
Yes, I’ve just been cast for a commercial. It’s on hold for TV and cinema but, I’ve been told, it’s going to be out on the 14th July. It’s a commercial for National Rail, and I play a father who wants to take a shortcut home to be with his wife and child. I walk across a rail track … and get zapped ! It’s basically National Rail safety. My wife is played by Miranda Nolan, Christopher Nolan’s (‘Dunkirk’, ‘Inception’, ‘Batman Begins’) cousin, so I’m looking forward to that.
The exciting news for me is that ‘The Lockdown Hauntings’ is actually being shown in Singapore, right at this very moment, at the Shaw Theatre, which is really beautiful. I’m thinking it’s going to have an American release soon.
The other big thing for me, just confirmed yesterday, is that I’ve been confirmed as one of the leads in ‘Witch’, directed by Marc Zammit and written by Craig Hines.
The film will be coming out in 2022, and it’s getting a lot of exposure. Marc Zammit is connected with Universal, Lionsgate and Paramount, so it’s definitely going to be the biggest movie that I’ve been involved in. I play a character called Thomas. It’s a 16th Century supernatural horror film.
I’m also doing a Radio 4 play next week as well as a voice-over for Medtronic which will be heard all over Europe. I seem to be doing a lot of feature films. This year I’ve got ‘Six Years Gone’ in which I play a detective. That’s coming out end of September. I’m also in another film, a black comedy called ‘Psycho List’, and I’m also in a short film which we’re shooting next week.
So, that just about wraps it up. Believe in your dreams, believe in your own path. Stay away from any negativity. More than anything, believe in yourself.
Julie Retoré sat on the grass, looking into her small compact mirror, and adding some more lipstick.
She could feel Alan standing behind her, moving ever so slightly, so as to get the reflection of her mouth in the shot. He called out and she began the scene.
Julie smiled to herself as she heard the motor of the small Super 8 camera twirl. To her it didn’t matter. It was still cinema.
Alan was well organised and worked quickly, consulting a clipboard and telling the actors what to do next. He was shooting in sequence, so they could follow the action and change reactions more naturally.
Of her co-star, Julie wasn’t so sure. She knew about Vincent, had once seen him reciting the poems of Baudelaire and Rimbaud, and was looking forward to working together. He was quite the local star in the bars and theatres of east Berlin. The only problem was that he knew it. He was good and he knew it. He was striking to look at and he knew it. Girls tended to stop and look at him and he really knew that.
Vincent was taking over the shoot, advising Alan how to set-up, what angle to use, even how Julie should act. Not wanting to cause a scene or to speak out of place, she kept her peace, but resented him for spoiling what otherwise had been a very pleasant day.
Alan shouted, ‘Cut’ and she relaxed, looked at her director and smiled, asking him how she was. He gave a very flattering answer, which she knew was exaggerated, but when Vincent joined in and appeared genuinely impressed, she blushed slightly, and looked away, hiding her embarrassed smile.
She liked the story and liked helping a new director. She sensed he was a little withdrawn, but once he got started on a subject close to him, he relaxed and actually there was a problem to stop him talking. She found it charming, and refreshing that he was speaking about other people’s work and ideas, not just his own.
Her need to act had already brought her into contact with many artists who began every sentence with either ‘I’, ‘Me’ or ‘My’.
Alan had the whole film planned out, from the location (even noting where the nearest public toilets were and the cafes with good coffee) the position of the sun, for light, the style of clothing and the music.
She found all this very impressive and told him so when they had met to discuss the film.
Étude No 1 opens with a Close-Up of The Man. He sits, thinking, uncertainty on his face. It cuts to The Woman, arranging her hair. The Man now appears in Medium shot, sitting on the grass. He looks over, then back, and down. The next shot is from behind The Woman, applying make-up.
The Man is thinking over his relationship, wondering if it is working, what he is doing, having an existential crises. The Woman goes behind him, ruffles his hair and tries to cheer her up. He gets up and walks away, carrying her shoes, as if to get her follow him.
There are some fast, inter-cut scenes, showing their faces, until finally, The Woman puts her arm around The Man’s waist and he puts his around her shoulders and they walk away.
This would be accompanied by Debussy’s ‘La fille aux cheveux de lin’.
“That sounds lovely,” she said, a mere hint of German in her English.
She also asked if it would be in Black & White. He said he would like to, but only had colour film and didn’t even know if he could even get Black & White film for Super 8.
“Of course you can. And you can get it processed here, in Berlin.”
“Yes, my friend made a short film. Very quick. Same week, I think. I’ll phone him and ask, but I am sure.”
“Oh, yes, so much better. As Fellini said, ‘Cinema has two colours: black and white.’”
Julie laughed and Alan just took it as a sign that he was in the right place, the only city in Europe that had a studio to develop that film stock. And that here he was, in a café, discussing films with a beautiful intelligent young woman who loved cinema as much as he did.
During the filming, there was some discussion over the ending. Vincent suggested a whole new climax, totally against the spirit.
“Not only does this man have a giant ego”, she thought, “he’s proud of it, and thinks his ego is bigger than anybody else’s.”
Vincent’s idea was nonsensical, clearly just thought up. She spoke up, siding with Alan and saying that they should keep to the script that they had all decided upon and agreed to.
“I’m just trying to make it better, otherwise the audience won’t know what happens,” he said back, more than a hint of malice in the voice.
“That’s why it works,” she answered, calmly, “the power comes from the open ending. The audience will have to think for themselves. And they will, they will ask each other ‘what do you think happens ?’ No, I like it and we should do it that way.”
Despite making a gesture indicating that he no longer cared, Vincent went along with it, but made a poor first take. Julie whispered something to him, and the second take was much better. Alan only had enough money and film for a maximum of two takes.
After being thanked and told how good he was, Vincent relaxed, and began laughing and dominating the conversation. As they walked back to the S-Bahn station, he put his arm around Julie.
Although she couldn’t see him, Julie could sense that Alan wanted to shout, “Cut !”
The shift began as normal. Richard arrived early, tried to order a coffee from one of the waitresses and when it finally arrived, plonked down in front of him, spilling over the side, he had no time to drink, but took it into the kitchen. He made space on a metal shelf, and looked down at all the plates, piled up, stacked on top of each other, taking up the entire work surface. As he did so, a waitress appeared and smashed more plates down, so that some small saucers fell onto the floor and crashed.
The restaurant had been serving since breakfast and no one had bothered to wash a thing. Metal egg-cups encrusted with yoke, bits of dry toast, muesli cemented onto bowls; and the beat goes on, Berlin goes on, work goes on.
Then a new waitress entered, holding up a fork and barking away in German. She clearly wanted new cutlery. Richard held out his watch to indicate that it was five to six, he wasn’t working yet, wasn’t even changed. She continued shouting in German, while Richard muttered, not too softly,
“Who won the fucking War, ya Nazi cocksucker.”
The extra work load generated by the Summer, when the garden was open and had an additional twenty tables, had proved too much for the lazy chef, who had left. The east German chef remained, and a temporary chef filled in as well. Temporary chef was quiet and efficient but tended to treat Richard as a drone worker, not a person worthy of respect or even thought. And he tuned the grease-encrusted radio to a Techno station. All night there was a heavy, unrelenting beat that Richard found impossible to tune out.
Yet, it was a challenge, and Richard threw all the plates into the sink after scraping away the debris, got some cutlery washed, filled and emptied the machine and had cleared the surface within his first half hour.
But then it got busy. The chef demanded help with making side salads and Richard grabbed a handful of lettuce and vegetables and flung them into the saucer, then got shouted at because there were no clean plates.
“Well, I’ve been doing your fucking job and not mine, ya fucking dickhead.” The chef had no English, but understood the tone, and replied with mutterings of his own, rising to shouts and screams.
The washing up kept coming and Richard still had all the other jobs to attend to. The chef needed more Camembert made, so Richard had to get his hands covered in egg and breadcrumbs, then parsley chopped, then things brought up from the cellar.
The waitresses demanded more cutlery or cups, then wanted candlesticks washed and de-waxed.
Just after nine, Richard shouted to the radio to,
“Shut the fuck up!” and went over to retune it to a Classical station. “Doing my fucking head it, that fucking inane shit ! Fuck’s sake!”
Some time later, a waitress brought the chef a beer. Richard hadn’t even been asked. Not that he wanted or had time for a beer, or a piss, but it would have shown some respect to have been asked. He went to the bar, waited for Josef to see him, then asked for a bottle of water.
Richard knew that if he had been holding a bottle, he would have smashed it around the barman’s head.
Instead, he walked away, down into the cellar, and found a bottle of whisky. He picked it up,
“Ah, fuck, it’s only J&B, fucking blend !” but it didn’t stop him from opening the top and taking an almighty swig. He looked at the bottle, surprised and impressed by the amount of space between top and whisky level,
“I’ll just piss in it to refill it,” he thought, but before he did so, took another giant swig. After that, work got a little easier. For a while.
But the buzz of the whiskey soon wore off, leaving a thirst for more and a decreased tolerance for the way he was being treated.
The chef left and Richard, looking around, saw the cooking brandy. It was pretty poor quality, the kind that gets sold in quarter bottles at Imbisses and kiosks on the street to alcoholics who have found a few old coins, but, like them, Richard didn’t care. It was alcohol.
He remembered starting work on the potatoes, but nothing much else.
Except one thing.
He recalled, vaguely, going into the bar and pointing his finger accusingly at all the staff, equating them with the Hitler Youth and warning them that he would be meeting them all again in Nuremberg.
Then he sat on the corner counter in the kitchen, put his head against the tea-towels which were kept on a shelf, and crashed out.
He awoke in his own bed with that feeling. That heart-stopping feeling upon waking. No idea what he had done, but knew it was bad. Very, very bad.
Chris came over in the afternoon, and Richard asked him to phone in and say he couldn’t work, due to a sudden flu, but would be back tomorrow … if,
“Stake out the situation, put feelers out, get the vibe . . . find out if I still have a job there.”
Chris laughed, closed the kitchen door and made the call. He returned, wide-smiled.
“OK, I’ll cover you tonight, could use the extra dosh. Seven hours at twelve Marks an hour, nice. Spoke to Walter. Hopes you are feeling better. Then I’ll come back here. Could use a sober night myself.”
Around two-thirty Chris returned, absolutely not wide-smiling. He crashed in, threw his bag across the room, and let out an uninterrupted flow of abuse.
“I know,” was all Richard said, still suffering.
“All right. Where to start. Now, what we want,” he began, knowing that Richard would like the ‘Hard Times’ reference, “is facts. OK, breaks down like this: you’re all right. Yes, go back tomorrow, no one’s gonna say Jack. Seems you got a little overwrought. Walter had a go at the staff, he’s a god guy, telling them not to treat you like scheiße, to do some of their own washing up, keep the work area clear, help out. How’s that ? It was Walter who drove you to Zoo for the night bus. Oh, Nuremberg, man, so funny, would loved to have seen that.”
“Oohhhhhh, mannn ! I thought I dreamt that ! Shit, shit, shit, shit ! Shit on a stick !”
“Don’t worry, most of them didn’t even understand it. One of the customers had to explain.”
“Well, fuck, have you seen Josef ? Wouldn’t he have made such a fucking great Nazi ? He’d be the guy in the black suit, with the Death’s-head emblem.”
“Oh, the temporary chef has gone.”
“Because of me ?”
“No, got a new guy. You’ll see him tomorrow.”
“What’s he like ?”
“Hhhmmm . . . how to . . . you’ll see. Tomorrow.”
Richard was glad that Chris was there and had covered the work situation. But only weeks later, Chris would not be visiting the flat, but hiding out there, scared for his life.
While Alan Francis was having the time of his life in Berlin, Chris and Richard were about to have their worst.
Richard’s summer was destroyed by his job. He was starting an hour earlier and finishing an hour later, but the extra money was no compensation. Most nights, after working seven hours straight, he went straight to the Czar Bar, and drank as much as he could.
In Chris, in Berlin as in London, he had a willing drinking partner.
Regarding Monika’s request, Richard had dreaded passing on the cease and desist, thinking it too personal, and he really didn’t want to get involved.
He decided to do it at the first opportunity, to get it out of the way, and, to his surprise and relief, found that Chris took it very well, even nonchalantly. But the reason he did so would lead to even bigger problems.
“It’s Veronica,” Chris explained. “Can’t stop thinking about her. Even if I could, I see her all the time.”
“Veronica ? Johan’s Veronica ? Oh, shit !”
“Yeah, oh shit ! I love Johan. I do.”
“Just love Veronica more.”
“It’s not funny.”
“I know. Well, what you gonna do ?”
Chris threw his hands in the air, signifying his lack of ideas.
What he did was to drink. A lot.
Initially, he was daunted by Jake and his capacity for alcohol. Now he tried to match him. As a consequence, Jake had to close up alone as Chris would be passed out, somewhere in the bar. He would go to gather shot glasses, or empty bottles and just not return. Jake at first didn’t mind, even found it amusing, but as it happened every shift, the joke was wearing pretty thin.
Yet, Jake couldn’t deny that Chris was good for business. He got the crowd laughing and drinking, and the weekly Sawhead The Bear concerts had brought in a lot of new people and made a significant increase in takings. The band could even get a small fee as well as free drinks.
On balance, Jake tolerated Chris’ drunken behaviour and laughed at his more outrageous antics, laughed at Chris’ pathetic hopeless doomed attempts to keep up with him. Yet, Chris did have some ‘marketing’ ideas which were proving doubly beneficial.
One such innovation was to offer free vodka shots to any woman, provided it be administered mouth to mouth, either by Jake or Chris. Surprisingly, they both got takers, though when Johan asked for a free shot, Chris declined.
“Ah, you fucking English, so scared of love!” Johan laughed, as he ordered a whole row of vodkas for friends and anyone else who happened to be seated around the bar.
Chris, of course, was hoping that Veronica would take him up on his offer, but she hardly drank, preferring orange juice or maybe a single beer, and she didn’t seem willing to try a free vodka.
Daniel, meanwhile, was living something of a double life. He worked hard all week, maybe had a beer or two with workmates just to be sociable, and made it to Ostkreuz once or twice. Saturdays, he rehearsed with the band (Micha and Serge agreed to work the lucrative Friday evenings so both Andrei and Boris would be fresh for the gig) then played the concert, after which he always went off with a new woman and reappeared on Sunday, to give a graphic account of the experience and to hang out, before returning to his normal weekday existence, normal that is by Berlin standards.
One Sunday, Chris had requested that Richard meet him in another squat bar, one tucked away south of Karl Marx Allee. Chris was going to see Pavel, a Czech squatter who was responsible for the bar. Maybe Sawhead The Bear could play there, get them out of the Czar bar; different venue, different audience.
Richard didn’t know the bar or the area, so was a little late, a little hungover and very pissed off at the thought of another week working as a Steglitz Spüler.
He walked up the metal steps and saw Chris at the bar.
“Yeah, all set, Sawhead play here next Saturday. Only they want some more bands, make a whole night of it. I mentioned Arizona Al.”
“Fuck, you sure ?” asked Richard, ”he’s not exactly . . . “
“Any fucking good, yeah, I know, but give the fucker a song or two. Either him or those fucking cunts from the first Sawhead gig.”
“Maybe we could get The Wiggling Kellys ?”
“I’d like to see them,” Chris agreed. “They’ve got a band or two here, some bozos called Perry Coma. Death ballads, I guess.”
Richard suddenly got a laughing fit. Chris thought it was due to his joke, but, when Richard finally got his breathe back and wiped the tears away, he explained,
“Did I hear you use the word, ‘bozo’ ?”
“ssss . . . bozo-sssssss. Plural, as in more than one of them, Bozo and his bozo friends. Whole place is run by bozos. Whole fucking city is full of bozos. We, my friend, are in one bozo-friendly environment.”
“Perry Coma’s kinda funny too.”
“They don’t even know they’re being funny. They’ve got no fucking idea some guy’s actually called Perry Como.”
Richard had a feeling that they were here and not the Czar Bar for other reasons, as well.
“Yeah, OK, just couldn’t face Danny going on tonight about how he pulled and what he did and what she did and how many times he did what he did and how much she liked what he did when he did what he did to her.”
The beer that Richard was drinking went all over the bar and poured out of his nose.
“That guy certainly has the moves,” he said, wiping the beer away as best he could. “I could learn a lot from him. I know he’s a singer, but he’s not especially attractive or has a sparkling personality. Nice enough guy, but, I mean . . . ?”
“Exactly, I know what you mean. He’s a bit of a yob. A thug. But, everytime he gets talking to a woman, whatever he says, it works, ’cause next thing you know, his tongue’s down her throat and his hands are homing in on the good stuff.”
“Oh, thanks, I needed that. Haven’t had a laugh like this for . . . I don’t even know. Work’s fucked. Bunch a fucking cunts, all of them. Have to leave, got to find something else. Anything else.”
“Yeah, do it.”
“I have to. Can’t stay here, otherwise. Have to leave.”
“And do what ?”
“Well, that’s the fucking problem. No matter how bad it is here, it’s a quantum leap from what it would or will be back in London.”
“You boys shouldn’t be so cynical.”
The boys stopped talking and laughing and turned around. A punk squatter with her hair in pigtails, and ripped tights sat down between them. Her accent, despite her clothing, placed her from the Home Counties, somewhere close to London but not too close.
Richard asked her what she meant, but she refused to elaborate, instead choosing to criticise the music.
“Oh, Nirvana; are people still listening to him ? He’s dead, move on, get over it. I fucking hate Nirvana.”
“Really ?” asked Chris incredulously,
“Why ?” demanded Richard.
“Because my name’s Polly, and those unwashed bastards have fucked up my life.”
And then, right on cue, a tall, unwashed bastard walked in, saw her and asked,
“Hello, Polly, want a cracker ?”
Polly soon got bored of her two compatriots, even though Richard was wondering if she was hitting on him, and left because he wasn’t responding. He asked Chris for his views. Chris puffed himself up, before pontificating,
“Uuummmm . . . hard to say. Don’t think so. Would you like to fuck her ?”
“Wouldn’t mind. Not my first choice, but, hey . . . she was kinda cute.”
“Uuummmm … Nice rack. Breasts.”
“I know what a rack is. OK, I thought a ‘rack’ was ass.”
“No, I’m pretty sure it’s breasts,” and Chris looked around, searching for anyone American-looking. ”I’ll ask Jake. He’s a Godsend. He understands all the R.E.M. lyrics. Who the fuck’s Mr Fred Blassie, and why is he such bad eater ? Just ask Jake.”
“Cool. I could have pulled that Polly. Oh, who am I kidding ? I tell you, next time Daniel goes to work, I’m gonna be right there, making notes. Any more about Veronica ?”
Chris let out a long sigh,
“She’s an art student.”
“Another one ! What is with you and … Is she more Ute or Melanie ?”
“No ! Not like Melanie, not like that sphincter-mouthed, Ninja Turtle. A real art student. Actually draws and paints, not just reads books and regurgitates other people’s opinions. She showed me some of her paintings.”
“’Sphincter-mouthed’ ? Didn’t you kiss her ?”
“No ! No, no, well . . . yes, but . . .”
“OK, back to the art. Any good ? Her paintings ?”
“What do I know, I’m a science student. No, they were good. Abstract, but with . . . form.”
Richard laughed and ordered more beers. Chris carried on,
“She’s got a friend coming, too, Italian girl called Carla. Another student.”
“Is she cute ?”
“Is she cute ? What, like that fucking Psycho Polly ? Is she cute ? She’s a friend of Veronica’s, she’s an art student, she’s fucking Italian, yes, she’s fucking cute. Something else, too. I happen to know that Johan is going away soon, back to France. For two weeks. Maybe more. Think that calls for a vodka.”
They got more drinks and toasted Veronica and Carla (sight unseen).
What they didn’t know was that soon, they would both act in such a way that Richard would be afraid to go to work, and Chris would be afraid to go back to Rigaer Strasse.
In the Spring of 1850, five novels behind him, Herman Melville began work on ‘Moby Dick’. He had promised his publisher a romantic adventure, or adventurous romance, much in the style of his earlier work. However, this novel was going to be greater, without doubt his greatest. He felt it.
After moving to a farm in Massachusetts, Melville met and became close friends with author Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Discussions with the older writer, and copious reading of The Bard, encouraged Melville to expand the scope of his novel into something quite different.
From Spring to the Autumn of the following year, Melville worked with a fervour of creative energy, often going without food or rest until late afternoon, crying out, “Give me Vesuvius’ crater for an inkstand.”
Finally … it was finished, and sent over the ocean, to Richard Bently in England, his publisher, as his books premiered there, before becoming available in his native land.
Melville was a confident man, and was sure that this monumental achievement would establish his literary reputation for all time.
But the reviews, from England, were rather mixed. While some praised the work, its originality, characters and plot, others were vociferous in their damnation.
To compound the situation, the British edition, named ‘The Whale’, had been edited by Bently, so as not to cause offence to political or social sensibilities. Bently also, for some unfathomable reason, omitted the epilogue. It was published without the final page.
Unfortunately, the American critics preferred to read their British counterparts, and not their compatriot author, and the novel sold poorly, the initial pressing of 3 000 copies not selling in Melville’s lifetime.
The drama’s done. Instead of elevating Melville to the Parthenon of genius, he was cast adrift in waters of increasing turbulence.
The following book, ‘Pierre, or The Ambiguities’ of 1852 was both a critical and financial disaster, with Bently even refusing to publish it. Melville’s family had also noticed a change come over him. Writing this darker novel, the disillusioned author would lock himself away, only emerging at night.
He turned to the more accessible form of the short story, desperate for the income generated by magazines, as he was unable to support his family and had to depend on handouts from his father-in-law.
After 1857, he wrote no more prose, exclusively composing poetry.
He undertook lecture tours from 1857 – 1860, but these were also unsuccessful. He was forced to leave his farm, and return to New York to work.
He got a job in the New York Custom’s House, but was prone to ill health and financial worries.
He died in 1891, almost forgotten. His passing was noticed in just one obituary.
Pfefferberg on Schönhauser Allee, Prenzlauer Berg. Google Images
Berlin. August 1995
Life, thought Alan, is incredible. Degree attained, a prestigious job in the City, networking with the movers and shakers, the future investors and producers. A year of being, a year of nothingness. No script, no contacts, no cast of characters, no crew, no shakers, but at least a move.
Now, thought Alan, I am a Putzfrau (cleaning woman), but I have more disposable income. No exorbitant London rents, travel passes, food, the NFT membership, however, had been essential. And I’ve found my cast of characters; I am surrounded by actors and artists. My dreams are no longer abstract plans, but actual possibilities.
Berlin; he loved Berlin. Immediately. Here was a city with real atmosphere, a city to be lived in, to feel alive, every inch a film set
People spoke to you. Neighbours, shop keepers, people on the street. You could go up to anyone in a bar and start talking.
He had been in the city less than a month but was already planning on extending his stay and finding another room, or even his own flat. Such plans were ludicrous in London; a cleaner having his own flat.
Alan was not going to let anything go to waste. Every experience would be stored for reference. Every time he rode the S-Bahn, or an elevated U-Bahn, he took in all the sights, mentally framing them, he took in all the beautiful women in their summer dresses, tilting his inner lens, Dutch angles capturing German angels. He listened to the symphony of this city, he was a man with a movie camera.
Alan tried articulating these thoughts, and many others, writing to his sister. He decided to use the letters as a writing exercises, to make his views lucid. He wasn’t sure if he succeeded.
Where to start ? You were right about Berlin – why didn’t I come last year ? All that time wasted, nothing to show for it. Not anymore – I have seen a camera I like (and can afford !) and will buy it tomorrow.
Kelly is so sweet – she’s really looked after me. I’ve met so many new people. You were right about Vincent – girls love him – what a great actor he’ll be (in my films, I mean !) so charismatic.
The room is big and light – not too girly, with a computer and even some books in English (Nasti – the girl whose room I’m subletting, is a geography student and has to study in English, no text-books in German, apparently).
Kelly got me the first job. I’m up at 5:30 and go to an Irish bar near Tacheles, the arts centre, and clean for about 2 hours. The bar owner is a splendid Irish man called Patrick (no, I’m not making this up). He set me up with another bar where I work for the next two hours. I can walk from one bar to the other.
I get home around noon, in time for lunch – coffee, rolls with jam or honey, some fruit, and start planing my films !
I saw Vincent perform – all in German, so I couldn’t understand it – but he held the stage well and kept the audience’s attention, quite an achievement ! Yes – bars here are very different – any space can open, stock up with crates and sell beer. As you would eloquently say, “It’s bonkers !”
Yes – I have been a little tipsy, sometimes – everyone buys me beers, even when I tell them I don’t want one – they think it’s English politeness !!
Have meet lots of girls ! All very nice. Kelly will take me to somewhere nearby – the Pepperberg (????) – something like Pepper Mountain (???)
I hear there are some second hand bookshops around – really need to find them – read my collection over and over. Went to a special English bookshop but it is SO EXPENSIVE !!!! Books at twice the cover price. Located in a horrid area as well, very bleak, drab, overwhelmingly depressing, decades of failed dreams etched in the brickwork.
Could you save my life and send over my ‘Bazin’ ??? I have two slim volumes (not too much postage – OH, and my ‘Godard on Godard’ – how could I have forgotten THAT !!!)
Brilliant idea of yours – maybe you can pop over at some point ? How is the job ? Won’t ask about London because I don’t care !!!
Lots of love
Next evening, a Friday, Kelly, along with some friends, took Alan from their flat near the Wasserturm and walked to the Pfefferberg.
This was a huge arts complex, whose classical façade dominated the southern stretch of Schönhauser Allee. Paying the entrance at street level, Kelly took Alan up the steps to a wide, open beer garden. People sat on the walls and looked down to the street below, or danced in the centre. Buildings arranged around the courtyard were opened and housed temporary exhibitions of paintings, or were hosting poetry slams.
Alan looked around, so tempted to lift his fingers to his eyes and make a camera shape and pan left to right. What a location, he thought. He couldn’t resist; he made the camera shape and paned left to right.
Through his fingers he spotted Vincent, with some girls, and they came over, Vincent very tall and flamboyant, dwarfing Alan who was under average height.
“So Herr Direktor, did you buy the camera today ?” he asked.
Alan smiled and slowly nodded,
“And projector and three film cartridges.”
“You’re still on your first beer ?” Kelly asked him, concerned that he wasn’t having a good time.
Alan lifted it up and showed that if was over half full. Also, he didn’t smoke, and was starting to believe that he may be the only person in Berlin who didn’t. Then he met another non-smoker who came up and introduced herself.
“They told me I shouldn’t speak to you, because you only talk about cinema. Well, I love cinema too. Hello. My name’s Julie.”
Eric Schwarz walked into a book store in Los Angeles and headed for the Philosophy section. He clapped his hands and opened them wide, as if to embrace the whole subject, from Aristotle to Zeno (from either Citium or Elea; at this stage he wasn’t able to differentiate between them.)
He looked sternly at the titles, some jumping out, some incomprehensible. Then he ran a finger along the book spines, loving how they felt and smelt. He picked out some editions, read their backs, flicked through them, checked the prices, put them back. Then he came to a collection of Plato, including ‘The Republic’ and ‘Symposium.’
Eric put a hand through his carefully arranged hair and stroked his goatee as he tried a random page. He laughed as he read about Aristophanes having first hiccups, then a sneezing fit.
He decided to buy the book and pulled his wallet out of his oversized shorts, then, at the till, stretched to show the cashier girl his physique and biceps through his tight T-shirt, indicating that though he may read Philosophy, he also had a hot body.
Of course, she didn’t notice, but vacantly rang up the book and announced the price in a bored monotone. Eric tried some repartee and made some expressions like an extra overplaying his role. The same lack of success.
As compensation, Eric treated himself to an oversized ice cream cone with several unharmonious flavours juxtaposed in one gooey multicoloured mess.
What did it matter ? Women here were too superficial. In only a week or so he’d be on the East Coast. Intellectual women. Women in glasses. Hot intellectual women (in glasses) walking around reading Schopenhauer.
This thought cheered him so much, he didn’t even care about the splat of ice cream that was melting into his T-shirt.